honor the Emperor

Back in the fall I settled into 1 Peter. In the midst of suffering and misunderstanding, I wanted to know the Lord more. He spoke to me clearly through His word – the Bible. As I wrote every word of 1 Peter, copying from my worn out Holman Christian Standard Bible, words came out of me in prayer to my Father in Heaven. Then words came out through my laptop to share with my friends.

Then I stopped. I hit a passage that I wasn’t sure that I should comment on. Did I avoid it in my reading? No, but I didn’t think that I had what I needed to share my thoughts or what I was learning in such a volatile time for our country and world.

So I voted – not for Trump or Hillary – if you were wondering, and the election passed by.

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Our citizens continue to divide and categorize one another by political affiliation above all else. The polarized state of our culture becomes more and more apparent each day, instead of calming down since the election ended.

Now I sit on my new – to me – sofa on tax day (although, what day isn’t a tax day, really?) and consider the words that caused my public reflections on 1 Peter to stop back in October.

“Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him who punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good.” 1 Peter 2:13-14

Sigh. So, my initial response when reading this – ugh – is total pushback. The part of me that has lived with government interference and failure wants to rage against the system when I read this. But is raging against the system the correct response for the follower of Christ (seeing as how that’s who Peter is talking to)?

Instead of a full out rage, a few observations from these short verses.

1. We submit to honor the Lord.

Why do we do anything as Christians? Our purpose is to bring glory to our Father. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” There is no neutrality in this – or anything. Either we honor and glory the Lord or we sin.

2. We submit to every human authority.

That means wives to husbands; believers to pastors and elders; employees to employers; students to teachers; children to parents; citizens to government. It’s worth mentioning that right before this verse Peter says, “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles.” He’s setting up his call to submit to authority as a way to glorify God.

3. The government’s job is to punish what is evil and praise those who do good.

Full authority to do whatever they please with their citizens is not given to the government. They are in place to help people do good. So what about when they don’t do good? What about when they praise evil? What about when they steal from their citizens and don’t honor their own form of government? Those are the questions. Those are the questions that I can’t answer for you, but I implore you to sit with the Scripture to consider. For me, it looks like submitting in the places that do not cause me to sin. Then using what influence or voice – however small – to advocate for what I believe is a government that offers true freedom and honors the Lord. Without breaking the law, I consider options for my life outside of direct government control as I make decisions for my family.

Even now I find myself searching for the right words. The words that articulate what I believe to be true without going too far from the topic at hand. But let me say this, Christian. When you submit to your governing authorities – even when we know that how taxation occurs in America is theft – you honor the Lord.

“For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” 1 Peter 2:15-17

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